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Authors: Emily Barr

The Sisterhood (37 page)

BOOK: The Sisterhood
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'Um, it's just that Sue, well, she's seen the, the message thing on Julie's phone. It does have your number on it. And when Roberto repeatedly says that you've got an agenda, that you're causing trouble for them because of jealousy or some such nonsense, then I'm afraid Sue rather ...' He tailed off. I knew what he meant.

'So Sue's mad at me. Not because she believes this crap, but because she thinks I'm trying to split them up, because I'm torn apart by jealousy of their perfect lives.'

Dad almost laughed. 'It doesn't sound plausible, particularly, does it? I try to reason with her, and she will come round. Just give her a few days.'

I was crestfallen. 'Oh. Really? I was hoping I could come down for the weekend. Things are bad here. I do wonder whether I'm going mad, or whether I'm imagining things. Could I come? I can talk to Sue. I'm sure I can convince her.'

I listened to my father, my only true relative, trying to let me down gently.

'I don't think that this weekend would necessarily be a good idea,' he said, after hesitating. 'Sue is really very ... distraught. In your condition, you don't need to deal with that. Next weekend. How about that? I'm sure she will have seen sense at that point.'

I bit back tears. 'Things are strange for me here,' I said. I wanted him to say he was catching a train after work and coming to see me.

'Then you must call whenever you need to,' he said firmly. 'And now I'm afraid I have to ring off. Try not to worry about anything, Lizzy. You have my full support. Nobody believes that nonsense apart from Julie. You're having our grandchild, and that is the only thing that matters.'

'Your
grandchild,' I said grumpily. 'Not Sue's.'

 

I went to work, the storm still gathering overhead. I hoped it would rain. Everything was dried up and dusty, and we needed water. I hoped the clouds would burst overhead and soak me. It would wash away everything bad, would cleanse me and let me start all over again.

It didn't. The electricity buzzed around me. The hot air was choking me. The Tube was hellish, though empty, and everyone at school was bad-tempered and uninterested. I only had to go in for an hour. It was not in the least bit worth bothering, but at least it gave me something to do.

The staffroom was almost empty.

'It's funny,' Sandrine was saying to Kathy, 'because in a way she's annoying, but in another way I like her. But I wish she hadn't done it. Christ.'

'Wish who hadn't done what?' I asked, sitting down gratefully, and rubbing my bump.

'Wish that Isabelle hadn't shown up on my doorstep yesterday and forced me to go out drinking.' She looked up. Her eyes were bloodshot. 'God only knows how she feels today, because I feel like holy shit. Seriously, I had to do a sixth form induction for next year's French students, and I could hardly say two words. My head. You know?'

'I can vaguely recall that feeling,' I said. 'I don't think I'll ever be able to do that again. What did you drink? You sound like the sixth form yourself.'

'I know. Wine. Nice wine, too. It's not like we were on Bacardi Breezers or anything. But she just kept ordering it. She didn't eat a thing. She tells lies about stupid things. She drinks me under the table. She's insane.'

Kathy looked up from her paperwork. 'Self-medicating?'

'Without a doubt. And here I am, thirty-two years old, being led astray by some child who thinks alcohol is cool because it makes you feel, like, really amazing and different. And that food is, like, really gross, because starving yourself is a sign of self-control. She is an anorexic, I swear.'

'Well, you're with us now,' I told her. 'You're among grown-ups. My only eating disorder is the fact that I can't shovel enough food into my mouth in the time available.'

Kathy snorted.

'Ain't that the truth?' I looked at her, eyebrows raised.

'For me as well,' she clarified, hastily.

'Do you both want to come over after work?' I asked impulsively. 'Come to dinner? Helen filled up the kitchen with food for the five thousand. I haven't had the heart to tell her that, even in my condition, I'm going to have to throw three-quarters of it away. She went crazy in Waitrose.'

'Can I fill up on carbs?' asked Sandrine. 'And don't you dare try to get me drunk.'

Kathy looked at her. 'And don't you bring that wayward girl with you either. She's trouble.'

'I should introduce her to Helen,' I said. I had a feeling that I dismissed, because it was impossible. 'Two French girls, short skirts, drunk in London. Separated at birth.'

Sandrine shook her head. 'Your flatmate sounds like a nice girl. This one is manic, and she runs entirely on alcohol, not food. Isabelle would never be able to do big supermarket shopping.'

I left at lunchtime, with a pile of paperwork to get through at home. By the time I got back, I was wishing I hadn't invited them. I was going to need to give myself an energy surge. I told myself it was fine. I could sit back and let them assemble something to eat. All I really wanted was a cold shower and a long, long sleep, one that would ideally end in my waking up and discovering that all recent events had been a dream.

 

There was a familiar figure sitting on the doorstep.

I tried to smile when I saw her, because I knew that her visit was a positive thing. All the same, I didn't think I had the energy.

As I got closer, she pulled herself to her feet and started walking towards me. She was smiling, but when I looked at her eyes, I knew I was in trouble. She didn't look back at me. She kept her gaze averted, looking at the wall behind me.

'Hello, Rosa,' I said. I tried to smile. I thought about access and birth certificates and money. Her mouth was tight as she walked slowly towards me. She stopped when she was close enough for me to hear her voice. She kept a good couple of metres away from me.

'How could you?' she asked the wall. Her tone was conversational, but there was an unmissable menace beneath it.

'How could I do what?' I asked mildly. I hoped my dread of whatever was coming was not as obvious as it felt.

Rosa looked at me, briefly, then flinched and stepped backwards. She looked at the paving stones beneath our feet.

'Well,' she said. 'Let's see. Can you think of anything you might have done? Any phone call, perhaps?' She looked at my huge stomach, and looked quickly away in clear distaste.

'Helen said you were asking after me,' I said, feeling lame. 'I thought that was good.'

She took another step away. 'It
was
good. At the time, it was good. I was trying. Do you know how weird all of this is? I'm a woman. I'm a woman on my passport. In every sense, I'm a woman. And that is all I've ever wanted. I'll never be a mother, I know that, but to have you swinging your fat belly about like this, after that night...' She shook her head. 'My whole life is about being Rosa. This is my future. I had no traces left of the way I was before. And then you hit me with this.' She glanced at my stomach again, and away. 'With parenthood. I've hardly slept since you told me. It's ruined everything. You couldn't have done a worse thing if you'd tried.' She took a deep breath. 'But I told your lodger I wanted to see you because I wondered whether we could turn it around, make it into something good.' She looked down at the ground, her face closing over.

'Something good?'

She didn't look at me. 'I'll never carry a baby. But I met a couple of trans-women who had families already, and they're the happiest women. Their children had to get their heads round the fact that dad was now another mum, but apparently kids are OK with that sort of thing. And that's what I was thinking about, when I gave that girl my card.'

'She never gave me a card. She said you hadn't left a number.'

'She was lying. I put it into her pocket myself. I was going to put myself on the line. Ask whether you'd mind your baby having a second mother.' Suddenly, Rosa roused herself. '
But
,' she said heavily. 'None of that fucking matters any more, does it?'

There was something wearyingly familiar in this situation.

'But of course you can be the baby's other mother,' I told her. 'What else did you think I wanted?'

Rosa's fists clenched and the muscles in her arms stood up. I stepped back, but she wasn't looking at me. She seemed to be turned completely inward.

'What else could you have fucking wanted?' she said, enunciating each word. 'You know what you want. Money. Cold, hard cash. Do you recall making a telephone call to the Child Support Agency? Ring any bells?'

My heart sank.

'Not this again,' I said, and I was too tired to attempt to work it out.

'You said you weren't going to do that. You specifically said it.'

'I know I said it, and I meant it, and I haven't done it.'

'Don't you dare lie to me.' Her face was contorted, and I could see how hurt she was. She was simmering with fury. 'If you'd said I could be in the baby's life, we'd have sorted something out. I'm not rolling in cash, but I'd have done what I could. But the worst thing? The very worst? The thing that makes me hate you for ever? You gave them a name that is
not my name.'

She was close to the wall, and suddenly she lifted her fists and slammed them hard on to the bricks. She did it with such force that I jumped back. A piece of cement fell to the pavement. Rosa stretched her hands out, looking at them in surprise. Blood was smeared down the outside of her fists. She turned away from me, in on herself. She was throbbing with energy, with hate and anger. I reached a hand out, then took it back.

'I wouldn't do that,' I whispered, edging away.

'Not to my face.' She started walking, slowly and then faster, down the street. I followed at a safe distance.

'Not to anyone. I didn't do it, Rosa. I
swear.
I didn't do it.'

Suddenly, desperately, I wanted Rosa to believe me. I wanted her to like me. I wanted her to respect me. I knew that she was on the edge of physical meltdown, but I wanted her to look me in the eyes, and so I chased her. She was oblivious as I ran up behind her, but when I reached her, she took one look and jumped out of the way as if I might launch myself upon her, or attempt to repeat the miserable seduction.

Until now, I had never given much thought to the fact that, just as Rosa was becoming a woman, I had confronted her with unarguable proof of her virility. I watched her struggle to deal with it, and I was afraid, not for myself, since she could hardly bear to breathe the same air as me, but for her. The force of her blow to the brick reverberated inside me, and I knew that she was capable of great violence.

'She's saying I imagined the fucking phone call,' she muttered, stepping backwards, getting as far away from me as she could.

'I'm not saying that,' I said weakly.

'I just dreamed a call on my fucking mobile from some woman asking for
him!
' She spat, and I thought that I could see her assuming a character to get her through this confrontation. 'I didn't think this of Lizzy. I never imagined she could turn out to be such a lying, cheating, money-grabbing
bitch.'

'But I didn't do it!' I said, and I tried to take her hand. She pulled away and started walking backwards away from me. I walked towards her. 'Rosa, this happened with Steve, too. He said he had a call from them, and when we called back, they knew nothing about him. He said someone was setting me up.'

Rosa shook her head. 'Oh, it doesn't really matter to you, does it?'

To my horror, she turned to the nearest parked car, and abruptly began to rain blows down upon it. She thumped it with both of her damaged fists, and I watched the dent in the roof get bigger and bigger. Then she started kicking. A passer-by stopped on the other side of the road, and gaped. I watched the man get a phone out. I knew he was calling the police, and I wanted to get away. I couldn't bear to be a part of anything that would surely follow.

Rosa's face was screwed up with misery and concentration. I didn't dare touch her. I started to retreat.

A black cab drew up next to me. The door opened.

'Liz!' Helen shouted. 'Get in! Come on!'

I weighed up the situation for half a second, and jumped in. Helen, who was sitting on the tip-up seat, slammed the door behind me.

'Blimey,' the driver said, equably. 'She wasn't too happy, my love, was she?'

I sank back on the seat. This was definitely not how things were supposed to be.

 

 

chapter forty
Helen

 

30 June

We barely spoke. Liz kept looking at me.

'Thanks for the rescue,' she said. Her face was blotchy and red. My plan had worked very well indeed, because now that she was in the cab with me, I knew I was going to get her to France.

All the same, she was looking at me in that strange way. I hated it. I hated everything about today.

'We'll just go round the corner, shall we?' she said. 'We can hole up somewhere and go home in an hour or so. When Rosa's had a chance to calm down, she might feel better. And if she's going to be in trouble about that car, I want to help her out. I think I can get her to see sense, you know. I think things will be OK. I just have to get her to ...' She tailed off, lost in her thoughts.

'No,' I told her, with a big smile. This was the last push. I had to force myself to go through with it. 'Well, I'm sure things will be OK, when you make a fresh start next week. Don't you get it? Liz, you really, really need a break. You need to leave all this behind for a few days. So we're going to France.' I took the tickets out of my bag. 'Remember? The flight leaves at three. Which should be just about right.'

Part of me had hoped this wouldn't work out. But I had got it right. Rosa was the baby's dad. It was lucky for Liz that she had a new family now, because her old life was a mess. Right now, she desperately needed to meet her mother. That would make everything better. Tom was right. This was what I had to do, for her sake.

'But I can't really go to France,' she said, as we carried on driving south. 'I haven't got anything. Passport, or clothes, or anything.'

BOOK: The Sisterhood
4.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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